Conan O’Brien says he would never “pull a Jay Leno”

Conan O'Brien's Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour

Conan O’Brien is finally talking to the press about the late-night battle with NBC that left him temporarily unemployed. In a 60 Minutes interview yet to be aired, Conan is careful with his words, but he makes one thing clear: if the situation with NBC and Jay Leno had been reversed, he would not have taken over the show again the way Leno did.

In his first televised interview since his late night dethroning, Conan O’Brien says he never would have acted like Jay Leno if their “Tonight Show” roles had been reversed.

“He went and took that show back and I think in a similar situation, if roles had been reversed, I know – I know me, I wouldn’t have done that,” O’Brien, says in the interview scheduled to air on ’60 Minutes’ on Sunday.

“If I had surrendered ‘The Tonight Show’ and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well — and then … six months later,” he added. “But that’s me, you know. Everyone’s got their own, you know, way of doing things.”

Asked by correspondent Steve Kroft what he would have done, O’Brien says, “Done something else, go someplace else. I mean, that’s just me.”

O’Brien eventually left NBC thinking “this relationship is going be toxic and maybe we just need to go our separate ways.” He is set to host a talk show on TBS following his comedy tour.

According to the New York Times, O’Brien held back on criticizing NBC too much because of his buyout and agreement to not disparage Leno or executives. He refuses to bite when Kroft suggests he “got screwed.” O’Brien responds, “No, I didn’t. I’m fine.”

When he’s asked if Leno lobbied to regain the show, O’Brien says simply, “I don’t know.”

When asked if Leno acted less than honorably, O’Brien hesitated and then said, “I can’t answer that.”

[From PopEater]

I’d just like to clarify that Leno didn’t technically “surrender” the Tonight Show: NBC, for whatever reason, let him go. While Leno’s conduct hasn’t been the greatest in this whole mess, most of the blame should be laid at the feet of NBC for cooking up this scheme in the first place. They were the ones who pushed Leno out, gave Conan the spot, and then decided to put Leno on at 10 p.m., which caused a ratings catastrophe for Conan’s show. Let’s be real: trained monkeys probably could have done a better job programming the NBC lineup. But it’s all good now, because Conan will have his own show at 11 pm on TNT,and his current tour featuring Triumph the insult comic dog, Andy Richter and an unpredictable set of famous guest stars, including Jim Carrey, is keeping Conan busier than ever. Yeah, I’d say he’s over it.

Conan O'Brien's Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour

Conan O'Brien's Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour

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41 Responses to “Conan O’Brien says he would never “pull a Jay Leno””

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  1. 1 qt of 1 % says:

    Jay was forced to leave the Tonight Show by NBC when his ratings were #1. When he was asked to take it back over they were going to get rid of Conan regardless of Jay’s decision – because Conan was not carrying the ratings. That is show biz. Conan needs to quit whining and go roll in the dough he is making. If he can’t get past the pity party – put the blame when it belongs. NBC made all the decisions.

  2. Jeri says:

    Jay did not “carry the ratings” in his first 6 months on the Tonight show after Carson left. That excuse is lame.

  3. lucy2 says:

    I’m a Conan fan and looking forward to his show. After this interview (and a few expected jokes during the beginning of the new show) I hope he moves on from the Leno/NBC stuff. Dwelling in the past will only make him seem bitter. Celebrating the new show will be a lot more fun for him and everyone else.

    I very much agree that the blame is mostly NBC. I think Leno could have handled it better than he did, and I haven’t cared for him trying to align himself with Conan as a corporate victim, but this was NBC’s mess.

    From everything I’ve read, Leno’s 10 pm got canceled due to less than stellar ratings and affiliates being unhappy. Conan’s ratings were never expected to equal Jay’s at first, but then hit a double whammy because people weren’t watching the local news either, and his lead in was damaged. NBC didn’t want to lose Leno to a competitor, and he had a $150 mil payout compared to Conan’s $30-40, so NBC didn’t want to let him go. They tried to have both crammed into one spot, and one walked away. Had Leno quit once the 10 pm failed, Conan would still be at the Tonight Show.

  4. jane says:

    Conan’s a tool. Jay was crushed when he was forced into “retirement” to make room for conan, who had threatened to leave nbc if he didn’t get tonite within a certain period of time. Yes, it was a stupid move on nbcs part becuz Jays demo was an older working group & conans is younger school; still, conan has been a spoiled whining jerk thruout this entire affair. This is a man who makes millions folks, for doing next to nothing, and now, for doing nothing. He doesn’t deserve or need anyones pity. Now after pushing leno out, he’s taking lopez’s spot & like jay, lopez is being gentlemanly about it. But conan is still whining…

  5. buckley says:

    I like you Conan..but quit whining already.

  6. julie says:

    he was asked questions about it and answered. not much whining there.

  7. OXA says:

    Coco go grind your organ somewhere else.

  8. Chico says:

    Conan is right. Leno has been a greedy pig forever now. He was never pushed out of anything–that’s a lie. The guy is a big star and can do whatever he wants. He decided to retire to a lower time slot, but when his ratings sucked so badly, he decided to take his spot back. Then Leno blames NBC and Conan which makes him look like the sad, pathetic wimp that he always has been. Remember, this is the man who hid in a closet to find out what NBC executives were thinking when they talked about replacing Carson. HE HID IN A CLOSET. Talk about low and cowardly–no class, whatsoever. He may be winning late night ratings, but he sucks as a human being. And, one day, he’ll find out that ratings won’t matter when it comes to who you are as a person. I have no respect for that man and many people in Hollywood feel the same. Like I said, he may have the ratings, but he sucks as a person.

  9. Bella Mosley says:

    Carson retired by choice. Leno was forced to give up the Tonight Show because Conan threatened to leave if he didn’t get the show.

    Leno may not have “carried the ratings” the first 6 months NEARLY 2 DECADES ago but surely we aren’t going to compare a time we didn’t have the tools to judge the audience response instantly as we can now.

    As for Conan only answering questions: he does have a choice as what to answer. Maybe something like “Let’s not dwell on the past. Let’s talk about my new show” He has chosen not to take the high road.

    Neither has Jay. He whined on Oprah. I am sick of both of them whining while taking home millions of dollars every year. We have children in this country going to bed hungry every night, children without homes or medical care because their parents can’t find jobs in this economy. I wish both of these men would be fined big bucks every time they whined and it would go to a family who needs it.

  10. Feebee says:

    Whining? Conan’s hardly peeped about this since this shit went down. He gives one interview and suddenly he’s whining? Didn’t anyone see Leno on Oprah?

    Yes NBC is run by dumbasses. That doesn’t make Leno less dirtied by this mess. He had FIVE years to make peace with being replaced as the host. This ‘forced retirement’ is bollocks. He wasn’t being forced to retire. He’s a comedian by trade, stand-up isn’t a dead profession.

    The fact that Leno’s gone back to #1 is a sad indictment on the choices available and/or the laziness of viewers.

  11. Cheryl says:

    Whiner! Time to move on please. This is getting very very old. I wish somebody would pay ME the kind of money Conan is getting. Yet he’s still going on ad nauseum. Time to grow a set.

  12. buckley says:

    “wish somebody would pay ME the kind of money Conan is getting”

    to NOT work!

  13. canadianchick says:

    What a whiner-if he keeps it up I will not watch his show.

  14. original kate says:

    i am sick of all these late night losers. they need to STFU and be happy they are making millions of dollars doing relatively little work.

  15. Jez says:

    NBC is at fault here. Not Jay. I’ve met Conan and he’s a rude ass. I haven’t met Jay so I can’t say but I think Conan is milking this.

  16. 1 qt of 1 % says:

    If Jay should make peace with being forced to leave the Tonight Show because he is a comedian and stand up isn’t dead, then why not leave him at the Tonight Show where he was(and is) #1 and let Conan go elsewhere and practice his stand up routines? That would have made better business sense (and NBC is running a for profit business) and oh yea: that’s how it ended up anyway as Conan couldn’t cut it at an earlier timeslot.
    The fact Leno is #1 isn’t a sad anything. It just means the public has spoken. Just because they don’t agree with you doesn’t make them wrong or right. It is just a matter of opinion and we are all entitled to our own. Ratings are what they are. I am disappointed some shows make it and others don’t but majority rules.
    Personally I don’t watch any of the late night guys. Love my DVR! Other times I read or sleep!

  17. Tia C says:

    Well, that’s because he is a giant dork. Obviously there was no need to replace Jay. If it was meant to be, it would’ve worked out. Wah f-ing wah, Coco.

  18. jane says:

    I know Leno. I also know a couple of nbc execs, who told me and my hubbie that conan was told he would have to “dial down” some of the weirdness/kinkiness of his act in order to keep the tonite show base. He refused, and the result was epic fail. NBC had to scramble to fix their errors with the f’ed up programming, and Conan wasn’t willing to go along. So he was cut loose with a huge chunk of change and is now free to take someone elses time slot. As for Jay Leno, he is one of the nicest, most gentlemanly, most decent men I have ever met. I have never heard anyone ever say anything bad about him (of the people who actually know him). He and his wife Mavis are one of the most popular couples in the industry, but as they live their life low key, that doesn’t get around.

  19. jane says:

    btw, having grown up and lived my life in an area full of celebrities and having to deal with many of them in my work life, I can tell you, I usually cannot stand celebs. Most of them are arrogant, rude, slobs. Seriously. Jay is one of the few exceptions to this rule. One of the very few.

  20. Bella Mosley says:

    As far as Jay being a nice guy, I have heard that from a friend who met him a number of time (motorcycle related) and a friend that works in the industry. They both said he was a great guy and well loved and respected. Of course it is obvious he doesn’t live the wild life as he does steer clear of the tabloids. I always admire the celebs that manage to live their life w/o trying to get constant publicity.

  21. Jaxx says:

    Jay really and truly sucks.

  22. Chico says:

    I’m sorry just b/c you met Leno and he was nice to you doesn’t mean he still isn’t a competitive jerk. This is still the guy who hid in the closet to get Carson’s job, pulling every dirty move in the book to one-up Letterman. There’s a reason why other comedians despise Leno and almost no one defended him. He’s earned that reputation, too.

  23. Scout says:

    @ Jane, thanks for posting what I have copied below – it bears repeating because, while I do not have the pleasure of knowing Jay Leno, I know someone who has met him on several occasions and they have said about him pretty much exactly what you wrote. Thanks again for setting the record straight!

    “As for Jay Leno, he is one of the nicest, most gentlemanly, most decent men I have ever met. I have never heard anyone ever say anything bad about him (of the people who actually know him). He and his wife Mavis are one of the most popular couples in the industry, but as they live their life low key, that doesn’t get around.”

  24. Stacy W. says:

    What Leno did was wrong and not nice nor gentlemanly. Leno is not even funny. He is painful to watch. Team Coco all the way.

  25. oh hey says:

    I really don’t get how people think that someone’s seen for only one hour on TV is doing next to nothing. Clearly Conan is involved in the pre-show work that’s involved. I know for a fact that the on-air talent for any show has to be there several hours earlier than the show’s air time. It’s not that they show up to the studio two minutes before show time.

  26. snowball says:

    If Conan was such a piece of shit, why did NBC even agree to give him Leno’s spot in the first place? Even if he said he’d walk, Leno was obviously doing well with the Tonight Show, NBC would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to have seen Conan’s show and know it wasn’t going to work with Jay’s demographic – so why on earth would they even think about moving him?

    I don’t get how they even thought this would work in the first place. NBC obviously wanted to go for a younger audience at night, figured the old fogeys would watch Jay earlier, then pass out after the news and the younger audience would turn in for Conan. When that failed, they manufactured all this hysteria and two decent people got dragged into it and their reputations ended up smeared and Conan ends up on a basic cable network (sorry TBS sucks).

    I don’t care how much money Conan’s getting, his career isn’t exactly going as planned, while Jay is right back where he wants to be. It hardly ended fairly, Conan got screwed.

  27. jc126 says:

    Conan is a class act. Leno isn’t totally evil, but he is rather a d*ck, and a d-bag for saying “we all got screwed”. How did HE get screwed?

  28. CathyT says:

    I’ve heard that both Jay and Conan are nice people. But television ratings are a zero-sum game. For Conan to get his new gig, George Lopez was bumped.

  29. StuntMom says:

    this whole late night takeover was a raunchy affair and nbc seems to be run by a short bus crew. jay gets pulled from the #1 slot and is given a prime time show. conan gets the tonight show. when the ratings aren’t as successful as projected by the nbc team of rocket scientists, the hoopla begins. for as much as conan’s pride and reputation were damaged by nbc’s choices, the same damage was done to jay leno, he came out looking like an nbc bootlicker. i’ve never been a leno fan, i find him totally unfunny, and can only think his ratings must be part of a massive HMO conspiracy theory to stop prescribing so many sleeping pills when leno can do the job for nothing.

  30. Dhavy says:

    Has anyone seen “The Battle for Late Night” on A&E? It shows Jay Leno’s true colors. For all those bashing Connan they should watch this so they can see how much of a sneaky douche Leno can be, not only this time around but back when Letterman was on NBC.
    So much for Mr Nice Guy

  31. Feebee says:

    1qt of 1%
    1) Correct me if I’m wrong but Conan was not a stand up comedian, he came through the writing ranks at NBC, so he couldn’t go back to being a standup comedian
    2) Conan’s contract was coming up, he was looking elsewhere. Yes, he coveted the Tonight Show gig but was prepared to move. It was NBC who made the decision to move Conan to the Tonight Show in order to keep him.
    3) Leno was given a lot longer to pull the ratings when he took over the Tonight Show.
    4) Leno has always had a good lead in from NBC 10pm dramas. They did not afford O’Brien the same courtesy/advantage.
    5) I was simply stating my opinion that it was a sad indictment that Leno was #1. IMO, it’s sad if that level of comedy is the best thing on. Viewers are notoriously lazy – that’s what the programmers are counting on, hence the importance of lead in programmes.

  32. Dallas says:

    Conan, STFU! Stop pulling the “victim” card out and move on………Bitter party of one your table is ready!

    Let it go………

  33. jane says:

    Dhavy, I saw that show when it came out. I didn’t think it showed jay as a sneaky douche at all. It showed his agent as one, and Jay ended his relationship with her. The Tonite Show is a gig that most comedians want to have, are you really blaming Jay for taking it when it is offered? Would you turn down your dream job if it was offered to you because someone else you knew wanted it? Please. Yes, I know that Letterman thought he was next in line & that he was Johnny’s choice, but nbc felt Jay would be better, and they made their choice. Hate to break it to you but this happens every single day in Hollywood. Some actor wants a job, thinks he is going to get it, and it goes to someone else. The entertainment industry is not for the thin skinned. And yeah, I still think Jay is Mr Nice Guy & so do thousands of other people. I’ll tell a little story about him: Back in the 70’s, one of my older sisters best friend had a huge crush on him. This girl (the friend, not my sis) was a total witch, nasty personality, pushy, rude, you name it. Jay did not want to go out with her, but was very sweet to her, far more so than she deserved, and didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I was a kid when I first met him & have heard dozens of stories of his kindness from other people (other celebs even), so I feel I have pretty good view of his character. Frankly, I think Jay has shown a lot of self restraint and class throughout this entire affair. He’s the one that has been painted the bad guy, by TMZ, E, and other comics like Jimmy Kimmel.

  34. jane says:

    Ooops! Dhavy, sorry, I didn’t see the newest A & E thing. I thought you meant the old 90’s tv movie which I think was called the Late Shift or something like that! Sorry! The rest of my comment is accurate though!

  35. Ashley says:

    Jay=not funny
    Conan=super funny
    Jay=lame old jokes
    Conan=breath of fresh air
    I will be happy to watch conan on whatever network he’s on.

  36. abbydoom says:

    Go Coco!
    I will mos def be watching his new show.

  37. Tess says:

    Conan made a huge mistake by not going to Fox.

    They were talking. It would have been a highly visible perch for him. And he could have even taken the obligatory celebrity shots at Fox, to maintain Hollywood credibility, as Fox doesn’t reflexibly restrict airing diverse opinions.

    Could have been great TV.

  38. Bella Mosley says:

    For those who say Conan only answers questions put to him: I just saw the 60 Minutes promo and Conan said the reason he is doing the show is to talk about this situation. He was not blindsided by the question as you insinuate. He chose to go on the show specifically to keep this situation in the press. He was bound by contract not to speak of it and the very day that contract was up he is on 60 Minutes. Very Classy…. rolls eyes……

    Conan pushed Leno out of his timeslot first by threats to leave NBC. So how is that different than when Leno was offered HIS timeslot back since the man who pushed him out couldn’t cut it? Realistically Conan did it to Leno first!

    BTW How is taking George Lopez’s timeslot different? He said he would never pull a Leno. What would you call that? But it isn’t a Leno as Conan did it first! How do we know George is willing to give up his timeslot or as I have read: Lopez was told to suck it up or he was out? Or maybe George just isn’t a big whiner? Just a thought!

  39. canadianchick says:

    I used to like Conan, now I just think he’s an immature egomaniac. I like Jay’s new humour-the internet gags and his political satire. He will always best Conan because Conan is just too weird and loses networks their money.

  40. Amy says:

    Conan should stop complaining about how he lost this and that. Let him talk to thousands of Americans that actually lost their jobs. I feel no sympathy for this guy who quit his job himself over a 30 mins time(change) difference and skipped home with millions of dollars in compensations.He should keep his sob stories to himself.